Ever had a scary car?
To clarify, have you ever had a car so diabolical that some people wouldn’t ride in it? I’ve had a few, including this 1969 Ford Fairlane – which also happens to carry the “scariest car” moniker in my vast spectrum of vehicle ownership since age 14.
It was something of a neighborhood legend before I got it in 1983, a hashed-out 429-powered veteran street brawler that ended up sitting with a blown water pump next to a friend’s house. That friend is Bill, the one biting off the wiper blade in the picture above; the others are Jeff (big train nut like me) and Dave (loved Coca Cola more than life itself). So how did I end up with the Fairlane? Well, another friend bought the car for $200 and made it halfway home (a.k.a. “my driveway”) before it started making crummy noises. It sat for two months at my house before he offered it to me for free if I helped him move into a new apartment. Never being one to pass up a free car, I did it.
The Fairlane was a mess. The hood didn’t stay down because the radiator had been mounted in the way of the hood latch mechanism (which languished in the trunk). Because of this the cooling system didn’t cool. The starter was on its way out. From what I recall the radio worked for exactly one day, but when you have the rumble of a big un-muffled V8 there isn’t much else that a radio would satisfy. The exhaust, piped for the original 351 V8, didn’t match up to the 429 exhaust manifolds, and hung low enough to catch on anything taller than a pebble on the road; previous street rats had tried attach it up underneath, literally with bailing wire. The transmission shifter was a piece of metal linkage hooked directly to the transmission through a hole cut in the floor pan. The driver’s side door window wasn’t hooked to the window regulator, and would fall down into the door if not left out. The rear tires scraped badly on the rear wheel wells. The front end tracked horribly, and wiggled like a freshman sorority girl. Although the car was harnessed with these deficits, it had a good quality as well.
It was scary fast. I mean scary scary fast. The fast part was the engine – truckloads of torque and a thirst for premium fuel. The scary part was a steering wheel that would do the Danger Dance at speeds above 85mph (which I didn’t do…..often). Pine needles would fly out of the defrosters at 65mpg. The 429 was a 360-horse plant out of a `70 Thunderbird. I’m not certain how many miles were on the motor, but it was strong. It had a dual-point mechanical advance distributor that I managed to tune with blind luck and straight blade screwdriver. The car had been stripped of all options and frills, so the 429 did quite nicely when moving out in traffic. Second gear and sideways was the rule for any green light. One night I watched a man in a Camaro pull up next to me at 175th and Aurora in North Seattle and follow the lines of the car with his eyes; his expression was one of disdain…until he saw the “429” emblems I had mounted on the front fenders. At that point his eyes got big, his face went blank, and he looked straight ahead. It was clear his plans for a race were recalculated.
Naturally, the car needed a lot of attention to be roadworthy. One morning while on a Slurpee run (a mere four or five blocks), the hood flipped up over the windshield at 25 miles per hour because it wasn’t latched down. The fix for this was to remove the hood, turn it over, and bang it straight with heavy objects. Once we reattached the hood latch assembly the hood stayed down. But even after I was done with the water pump, the stupid hood thing, fat dual exhaust, and removal of the inoperative power steering system, the Fairlane still looked like Rolling Death. So, it got a fresh coat of black primer. Now Rolling Death looked nearly acceptable!
The 429 made so much heat that the car wouldn’t start after driving just a few miles. I fixed that problem by using the starter from a 360 Ford truck, which was beefier and was less prone to expansion from heat. One day, while visiting a friend in North City, I noticed a guy and his dog circling the Fairlane. When I walked over to him, I discovered that he had been the one who had done the 429 swap. He told me of the trouble he went to installing the engine, saying it took a big sledgehammer to make enough room and 429 motor mounts from a `71 Mustang. He was surprised to see the car at all, thinking that it would have been in a wrecking yard by then.
The end finally came for the Fairlane. I could no longer keep the car steering straight, even after countless adjustments and tweaks. What the car really needed was a full-on front end rebuild using 428 Ranchero coil springs. But in the end the car’s body simply wasn’t worth the money necessary to fix it right. So my Dad and I started looking around for a car into which we could install the best part of the Fairlane — its 429. We eventually found a `68 Thunderbird two-door with no engine or trans, and the swap was made. Lincoln Auto Wrecking hauled the Fairlane away for free on a warm spring day in 1984.